In the first article of this Canival series I introduced you to the history of this ancient tradition.
We know that it dates back to the Greek-Roman era and that it manifested itself in unbridled excesses of all kinds in order to overturn the pre-established order to establish a new one, pure and from scratch.
When we think of Carnival today, the first things that come to mind are the masks and the costumes, the parades with allegorical floats and the pastries, which I told you about in my post #2.
But why do we dress up for Carnival? What is the origin and the reason for the disguise? When did we start wearing masks?
Depending on the culture of origin, a different use has been made of it. From ritual to theatrical or goliardic object, with a common denominator: the loss of identity by the wearer and the contextual assumption of that of others. The mask has indeed the function of protecting who wears it in order to be able to act with impunity, to maintain anonymity, one's identity or neutrality.
Here it becomes necessary to bother our ancestors in the first step, even the cavemen, who wore the skins and horns of their prey during ceremonies to propitiate hunting, and then the archaic populations. These in fact assumed the identity of the dead by wearing a mask that acted as a link with the spiritual world. This way, the dead were given the opportunity to return to earth to have fun in exchange for good harvests. In many cultures nowadays it is still like this, right?
Even in the Greek-Roman era, the mask has a mystical function. During the chaos of the Saturnalia social classes are reversed, the slaves are served by their masters a succulent banquet on the last day before the period of abstinence (coincidentally like the one that should be observed in today's Lent) and they can even mock them without consequences, because as the saying goes: a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale (every joke is allowed at Carnival)!!
The Commedia dell’Arte, the cornerstone of modern theater, is based precisely on fun-making by the poorest and weakest towards the rich and capricious masters to whom everything was allowed, even if despicable and reprehensible. Carlo Goldoni, the great Venetian playwright, borrows regional masks such as Pantalone, Colombina, Brighella, Arlecchino, Mirandolina, etc. and sets his best plays during the Carnival of Venice, one of the oldest in the world.
The craftsmanship of mascareri (mask makers in Venetian dialect) dates back to 1436 but established itself in the second half of the 1700s. What we see today in the few genuine ateliers left, is a true work of art that has only been developing in the last 40 years, when a city committee decided to bring back the Carnival of Venice to its ancient splendor. Entirely created and finely decorated by hand, these light and breathable objects made of papier-mâché are now one of the all-year-round city symbols.
If today papier-mâché masks are of a thousand finishings and refined multicolored shapes, in the past to cover the volto (=face in Venetian, hence the homonymous word for mask) there were only two: the Bauta (which actually includes the above-mentioned "volto", the "zendale" shawl, the tricorn hat and the cloak)for the gentlemen and the Moretta (or Muta=mute) for the ladies.
The former is known everywhere thanks to film productions from all over the world, white, with a sharp and protruding chin so that the wearer could keep on drinking and eating without taking it off. The latter is black (that's why moretta), round in shape and stringless, it was held up by biting into a button placed inside at mouth height. But this way women coudn't even speak! observe my horrified lady-guests. Well, yes, as soon as they talked the mask would fall off and it meant that the lady wearing it was… available!
What about costumes? Well, simply what in the past were the luxurious garments of Venetian aristocracy and beyond, today it's essential to attend the fabulous Balls in the Palazzos and the parades in Saint Mark's Square. Enthusiasts from all over the world book their stay in Venice from year to year with the sole aim of wearing and exhibiting more and more elaborate and imaginative costumes.
Disguises, on the other hand, bring us back once again to the initial concept of assuming another's identity and to the detriment of one's own, at least for a day of disinhibition. I remember that as a child I waited for the carnival parade with great excitement, I didn't miss one and it was an excuse to put on makeup, style my hair and wear clothes and accessories that would be forbidden the rest of the year. The preparation of the costume, from the concept to its realization, required time, energy and more than a few screams from my mother, who was a volcano of ideas but was very strict and had little patience!
If you wish to experience the feeling of a masquerade ball or decorate you own papier- maché mask , take a look at this tailor-made tour experience and/or do not hesitate to contact me!
Now, have fun looking at these very old photos of me in disguise. Can you guess the different costumes I am in?